Saturday, February 6, 2016

Music and Brain Injury

Last night I was reading a post on a Facebook board for Therapeutic Recreation directors asking about how best to use music to help people who have had traumatic brain injuries. I actually got kind of worked up reading the responses. I felt that people might not be recognizing the difference between the needs of people experiencing dementia and those with TBI. 

I wrote a short answer to that post but really I have a lot to say on the topic. Music is so much more than entertainment. It is part of who we are, a part of our experiences and what we remember. It is what some of us marched to, what we danced to at our weddings, and what we sang as we rocked our babies.

I have always loved music and grew up with it around me. My dad played piano and I started piano lessons when I was in grade two. I was always singing and I even met my husband when we were both members of our high school choir. Our four children all took music lessons and I can't begin to add up the hours of lessons, and concerts we took part in.

After I had the brain injury I developed a love / hate relationship with sound. Music and sounds had a horrible effect on me. I was very easily overwhelmed by movement and noise. The sound of music made me nauseous and dizzy and any kind of beat seemed to kick that constant headache I was feeling into high gear.  The more the music, the less I was able to focus and the more disjointed my memory and thinking became. I cried because I was missing music that had loved and I cried because music had the ability to incapacitate me even  further than I already was.

As time went by my physical and occupational therapists started to do things like adding sound and music to sessions and trying to get me to tolerate the music. A lot of therapy for dizziness is in the category of .. " You are not going to like this.. but we are going to take you to the point of being dizzy and then back it down a bit so we can build up your tolerance. Don't worry I will jump out of the way when you start to throw up!". Yes it is absolutely that horrible and you have to keep going back over and over for more torture, also called VRT or Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy, if you want any chance of having a life outside your bedroom.

Gradually music, in small doses, became one of  my greatest therapy helps. I started guitar lessons and I am sure I would not have regained such full use of my hand if I had not worked so very hard to get my hand moving on that guitar.  What I did not realize at the time was what a big impact the music was having on helping me recover some of my cognitive skills, especially my memory and sequencing of tasks.

My husband and I joined a community choir and there I was - out of the house doing something new and something other than therapy sessions. It was social, it was a new kind of learning and it felt encouragingly like a normal person kind of thing to do.
As I began my journey toward becoming a Recreation Therapist it was arranged that I would volunteer at the Misericordia Hospital. One volunteer position was helping with the spiritual care, mainly transporting people, handing out music and singing my little heart out with the residents during services. The other main job was assisting in a group program led by a music therapist who came weekly to the attached personal care home. The music was so powerful in both programs and what joy it brought to the residents!

I must admit that I personally don't do that much with music when I am at work at the personal care home. I have lots of opportunity when I could choose to run a music programs, but I rarely do. I think I value the role of music so much that I don't think I can live up to my own standards for this kind of program. This issue is apparently something I currently need to work on. I either better get to be a better musician or get over my perfectionist tendencies when it comes to the topic. I will have to report back about my progress in the future.

 I wrote in a previous post about singing a karaoke song at an event at the Stroke Recovery Association of Manitoba. That incident was very powerful for me in terms of mental and emotional health. The song I picked from the list of choices was the Beetles song, Blackbird. I was really scared to sing publically but I did it and felt so brave. When I finished there was no missing that I had an impact on the other people there. At first I thought they didn't like my singing or that the song was a bit too much. No, what happened is I had hit on a common emotion and wish for the group. It was what brought us together. We were all longing for the freedom of  having our broken wings fly again. We wanted our broken eyes to see again. To be free.
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life- You were only waiting for this moment to arise
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life- You were only waiting for this moment to be free
The power of music. 
Please note
 I was unable to find copyright info for the pictures this time. If there is a problem please let me know and I will gladly give credit or remove the pictures.

Monday, January 4, 2016

I Resolve...

On our very first cruise vacation last September.
New Years Day has come and gone.

I read a comment on one Facebook post about a group that started off the New Year singing Auld Lang Syne. A few minutes later they made their first resolution.. to learn the lyrics! How can you top a goal like that?

I have been going through the list of things I could or should work on this year and I was back to making the list of things I feel I need to improve or accomplish. Loose weight, get fit,  practice guitar, clean my house, sew a quilt, become a better artist, learn new skills,  and the list goes on and on.

 I usually think that my priority should be fitness. I am really acutely aware of how important it is to keep strong and keep your joints and muscles working their best. That is remarkably hard to do when you are exhausted.  Yes, yes.. you get fitter and then you have more energy and that is true even when we are talking about post stroke or brain injury fatigue. It can so hard to keep up a positive attitude.

I think what I need to do is to give myself permission to reduce stress and just rest and be kind to myself this year. I have worked long and hard to make changes in my life and I need to reflect on what I have already accomplished and experienced. I need to look for the small little things in life that bring peace and joy.

I do try to practice  mindful meditation and I truly believe that is what helps keep me going and positive. I want to try and bring some of that feeling to my everyday actions. This year I want to take time to focus on what I am doing and on the people I am with. If I am listening to music I want to focus on the music and not be mentally reviewing the lists of things I need to do that day. When I am doing an exercise I want to think about the exercise and focus on how that movement feels. I want to spend more time living in the moment. Not all moments can be joyful, but they are reality and a part of life and I want to give my all to those experiences too. 

I want to wish everyone a wonderful 2016 full of fun, joy, happiness and peace!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Sharing of Christmas with Seniors

Christmas was a bit different for me this year.

I wound up working on Christmas Eve day and on Christmas Day.  We gave out presents and cards to 175 residents on Christmas. I walked through the halls and from room to room jingling a wreath made up of bells while saying Ho Ho Ho and spreading Christmas Cheer.

The personal care home I work at gives residents presents on Christmas Day. Some small presents are purchased by the Recreation department with the hope of giving residents something they will be able to use and enjoy in addition to the gifts that they might receive from family and friends. Other residents' gifts are purchased for the seniors through a program called "Be a Santa to a Senior".
Seniors who are impoverished and/or isolated are referred to the program by health care professionals and agencies serving older adults.They are asked what it is they need or would like and these wishes are filled through kind donations from the community.

We also gave out some cards made by children. I volunteer with Girl Guides of Canada as a leader and work with girls 12 to 15 years of age. Last year the girls signed about 100 cards for me to take to work and give the seniors as a service project.  The girls planned in September of this year to spend one of the evenings in December doing something for seniors. I was so proud to have the girls request on their own to do such a kind thing.  They spent a meeting crafting cards and they made centerpieces for a tea party at my work. The girls and Guiders loved the evening of learning new crafts while doing something nice for others.

I think it is wonderful that the girls at this young age can reach out to others in their community. They grow into the kind of wonderful people, like the participants in the Be a Santa to a Senior Program, who continue to be willing to reach out and brighten the holidays for someone they have never met.

Thank-you to all the kind, giving people who brought Christmas Joy to the seniors and others in need in their communities.
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